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A Word With Willie

Welcome to Willie Oteri's Blog about his life and lessons as a musician. From here you can browse the full articles on each topic covered in this series.

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What is Jazz?

Watch What is Jazz?
In this video Willie Oteri gives his answer to the question, "What is Jazz?". 

Another topic that always comes up is, "What is Jazz?" I have some Jazz-snob friends who think they know what jazz is, but if you go back into the history of jazz -it wasn't really a genre- it was a bunch of guys jamming in brothels in the South. -Doing whatever the hell they wanted to do. -And if the Madam of the house wanted to get the John's out she'd say "Jazz it up!" I don't know if this story is really true, but I've heard this story a bunch of times and I've read it in some jazz history things too.

So, is there really Jazz as a genre? I don't know. I was watching an interview with Yusef Lateef and the guy goes, "Well why don't you mention some other great Jazz musicians?" -and Yusef's sitting down and as soon as the guy mentions jazz he stands up and says, "Don't call them Jazz musicians -that's an insult- these people are geniuses." So, it's like -I'm paraphrasing of course- but it's really not a genre other than to somebody that needs to market you.

It always cracked me up that middle aged white Europeans would dictate what is jazz and what isn't. I have a friend who was playing in Spain -and somebody actually called the police saying they weren't playing jazz because they were totally improvising- and the police actually came, the Spanish Police, to this gig because he said they weren't playing jazz. But they're jazz musicians improvising -I mean you know- it's what is Jazz? It doesn't really mean anything.

Basically the reason I use the term Jazz is because to me it means freedom. It means you can do whatever you want. There's no set pattern, no set chord progression, no set scale -it can be noise. It's all Jazz because it's improvising, it's new, it's thinking, its your brain exploding through your instrument or your voice. It's the freedom. And that's why I got into wanting to do jazz and improvised music in the first place. I mean if you don't want to call what some of us do jazz than just call it music.

Last modified onFriday, 11 December 2015 04:07
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Thanks to KD Neeley of ZiADiA for putting this series together!

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